Cast in the form of a manuscript written by a spinster schoolteacher, this homoerotic tale of blood-fever and libidinous relief is the least surrealistic of Coleman Dowell's books to date. Jim Cummins, a tobacco farmer in Kentucky during the Forties, is deferred from the service and lives childless with his plain thin wife Effie--and it's hard-scrabble all around for poor Jim who has to take his pleasures as a solitary out back in the barn since he's too giant a man for Effie to accommodate. Enter Jabez, an almost mythologically beautiful fourteen-year-old boy come to help Effie with her gardening. The kid collects the polymorphous perverse like his peers might baseball cards, and when Effie has to leave Jim home while she attends her sister's wedding, it's just Jim and Jabez and you can imagine. Dowell, as always, is a graceful writer; even wrapped in homespun as here, his mannerist prose has a continually self-modifying quality that speaks of craft. But the homosexual melodramatics (""He thought about grip and depth and heat"") dovetail too easily with a kind of cheap Southern Gothic, and finally the book, even with its layers of kith'n'kin sex-guilt, doesn't stack up higher than a wafer.